Standing on the brink of a 50-foot waterfall in Hawaii, Heather Friesen is treated to quite the view. Then, surrounded by the vast greenery that stretches out all around her, she creeps ever closer to the edge. And though Friesen doesn’t know it yet, this will prove to be a disastrous move. After losing her grip on the ground, she plummets all the way down – with her GoPro camera capturing the terrifying accident for posterity.
That fateful incident took place back in 2016, meaning Friesen’s ordeal is now nothing more than a truly awful memory. But while she was extremely lucky to escape with her life, things were never actually going to be the same for her again.
Friesen later discussed what occurred that day, too, in an April 2019 episode of the podcast In the World of Female Sports – and the picture she painted was particularly harrowing. But for those still struggling to get a sense of what happened, there’s also footage of the whole ordeal – thanks, of course, to Friesen’s GoPro.
Back in 2016, Friesen was a student of the University of Hawaii and was preparing for her senior season to begin. Around a week before the young woman had to be back in action, though, she decided to go on an excursion with some buddies.
And during their jaunt, the group decided to visit the Ka’au Crater Trail, which is situated just outside the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu. But while the popular spot is perfect for people looking to hike in stunning surrounds, it’s far from the only option for the more adventurous types in the area.
You see, the Ka’au Crater Trail is situated on Oahu – the third biggest of Hawaii’s main islands. And Oahu itself possesses some unique geographical features. For instance, a pair of inactive volcanoes known as Waianae and Koolau are dotted at opposite ends of the island.
The Koolau Mountain Range actually lies in the east of Oahu and plays home to the remains of that long-dormant volcano. The surrounding area is exceptionally pretty, too, boasting as it does some stunning forests and waterfalls.
To the south of Koolau Mountain Range, meanwhile, lies the more built-up part of Oahu – including Hawaii’s capital of Honolulu. But even though Honolulu is a major city, that’s not to say there aren’t areas of natural beauty nearby. In fact, just a 20-minute drive or so from the center can take you to the Ka’au Crater Trail.
The Ka’au Crater Trail loops around for more than seven miles, passing through lush trees and plants and ultimately leading to the top of a crater. Along the way, people can also pass by a trio of waterfalls. And the hike itself doesn’t get too challenging until the third cascade, which eventually leads to the Ka’au Crater.
But according to Jackson Groves, it may well be worth making the effort to complete the trek. Groves is an Australian adventure blogger who has experienced Ka’au Crater Trail firsthand, and he noted the area’s charm in a February 2019 post on his Journey Era travel blog, writing, “This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment, the Ka’au Crater Trail throws you into a world of enchantment.”
Groves continued his post by painting a vivid image of the route and its environment, revealing, “A glistening creek was lined by majestic trunks so tall [that] my neck hurt looking for the treetops. Dangling vines were strewn from the canopy as rays of sunlight broke through the dense foliage, creating a natural theater with a magical atmosphere.”
But while the locale is undoubtedly stunning, portions of the trail require particular care to traverse. Groves recalled on his blog, “As the muddy path steepens, the trail begins to get narrower and the mud grows thicker. A slow, measured pace was needed for us to manage this part of the trail safely.”
The dangers of the Ka’au Crater Trail were also made plain to Groves during his hike there. You see, after he and his companions had climbed to a great height overlooking the ocean, they noticed a helicopter whizz past. And although the group didn’t initially understand the situation, it turned out that this chopper was actually on a mission to rescue two women and a dog.
What’s more, owing to the intensity of the hike, Groves had a warning for readers considering a trip to the Ka’au Crater Trail. He wrote, “Due to the muddy terrain and the need to be able to pull your body weight out of holes and over ridges in certain sections, this trail should probably not be done without a group.” This particular piece of advice is something that Friesen would likely agree with, too.
Friesen and her friends had decided to tackle the Ka’au Crater Trail during their 2016 trip, taking in the splendid sights and sounds along the way as they did so. Then, at one point, Friesen found herself at the top of one of the area’s waterfalls.
It seems, too, that Friesen was greatly taken by the things that she could see from her vantage point. In any case, she decided to creep a little closer to the edge of the precipice upon which she stood. And as she did so, she activated the GoPro that she had with her in a bid to record the moment.
As things turned out, though, the camera ended up capturing a few seconds that ultimately altered Friesen’s life for good. You see, when she approached the brink of the 50-foot waterfall, she unwittingly stepped on a trickle of water – and this, in turn, caused her to lose her balance.
Friesen explained what happened next during her interview with Larissa Maloney on In the World of Female Sports. The beach volleyball player said, “The hike has waterfalls, and we were on the first [one]. And I was up at the top trying to look over the edge, and I got too close, and I ended up slipping.”
In fact, viewers of the GoPro footage can even spot the small stream that the sports enthusiast had missed at the time. Friesen pointed out during the podcast, saying, “You can see [in the video that] there’s [a] little trickle of water that was in the shadow that I didn’t really see.”
After losing her balance, then, Friesen slipped from the top and fell uncontrollably down the 50-foot waterfall. And this was by no means a clean drop. Jagged boulders were sticking out along the path of Friesen’s rapid descent, as can be seen by the GoPro footage.
Friesen attempted to save herself, too, as she plummeted from the peak of the waterfall. She recalled to In the World of Female Sports, “It was pretty much a free fall. There was a little ridge off to the left, and I tried to grab on… But that was too slippery, so I just kept falling.”
Plus, the horrific video that documents Friesen’s descent also contains some audio, with the young woman being heard letting out a shriek in the seconds after she slips from the waterfall. Yet even though this would seem to be an appropriate response to the terrifying incident, Friesen would actually go on to claim that she wasn’t all that scared on the way down.
Yes, surprisingly, Friesen told the podcast that she was actually somewhat composed during the drop, as she had tried to convince herself that things were going to work out okay. She added, “The things I was thinking about when I was falling – it’s the whole cliché that time slows down.”
Apparently, Friesen’s mind apparently wandered to thoughts of her loved ones and how this dreadful accident was going to impact upon their lives. In particular, she revealed during her interview, “I started thinking about how upset everyone was going to be at me.”
Friesen continued, “My family was so far away, and they would be so worried about me. My boyfriend at the time – who is now my husband – was on a road trip in California at the time, so I was thinking of how he was going to be worried.”
And while Friesen ultimately landed in the waterfall’s plunge pool, this didn’t really cushion the fall – not least because the basin was very shallow. During the podcast, she explained, “[The waterfall]’s not a place you’re supposed to jump off of, because the water [in the pool] was mid-thigh height – about 3 feet deep. So, you’re not supposed to jump into that because you will die if you land the wrong way.”
Mercifully, however, Friesen somehow lived through her horrific fall, although she was left battered, bruised and in desperate need of medical attention. Yes, on her way down, the young woman had picked up some truly dreadful injuries. And the video footage of the event suggests that she was aware of this, too.
Naturally, the clip of Friesen’s fall makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing. And even when the GoPro is submerged underwater, it still manages to pick up the sound of the adventurer groaning in pain – suggesting that something was not at all right with her body.
Then the video shows Friesen struggling away from the water and making her way over to some rocks that are located at the edge of the plunge pool. From here, however, it quickly becomes obvious that something is wrong with her breathing.
Friesen didn’t know it yet, but the violent fall had caused one of her lungs to collapse. And not yet fully understanding the situation was likely troubling for her. She told In the World of Female Sports, “The worst part was that it was very difficult to breathe because my lung had collapsed, and I didn’t know why I couldn’t breathe. I was conscious the whole time.”
Thankfully, though, Friesen wasn’t alone in the area. Shortly after her fall, a man had come to her side to help, taking her bag and trying to lead her away from the water. He then called for a rescue team, and soon Friesen was riding an airlift to receive much-needed medical care.
And during her flight away from the scene of the accident, Friesen apparently began to reflect on her faith. She recalled to In the World of Female Sports, “When I was on the helicopter being airlifted out, it was the most peaceful moment of my life. I kept repeating to myself, ‘God’s got me, I’m going to be okay and that I’m going to play volleyball again.’”
Thankfully, it seems that Friesen’s outlook on the situation never quite slipped into despair. In fact, she has since claimed that it never occurred to her that her grave injuries could be fatal. Friesen recalled on the podcast, “I really think my friends thought that I was gonna die… [but that] never crossed my mind.”
Then, when Friesen arrived at hospital, the true extent of her injuries were revealed. In addition to her collapsed lung, she had ten broken ribs; the trekker had also left the Ka’au Crater Trail with a fractured left shoulder blade.
Nevertheless, Friesen had managed to survive the ordeal – and for this, she credits a higher power. She revealed on the podcast, “I found out there had been others before me who fell from the same spot and died, and I know that God saved my life that day.”
Still, Friesen’s recovery was not going to be easy. Her initial hospital stay lasted for around half a month, in fact, with the young woman having surgery on her broken ribs during that time. Her volleyball career naturally had to be put on hold for a while, too.
Then, two weeks after the accident, Friesen showed her appreciation of those who had assisted her in the aftermath of her ordeal. In an Instagram post, she wrote, “Thank you times a million to everyone who has helped me and reached out to me during this time – from the two random hikers who let me squeeze their hands for 30 minutes while waiting for the helicopter to save me to the doctors who fixed me up and made me bionic woman [and] to those who stayed overnight in the uncomfortable hospital chair just to make sure I was comfortable.”
In the same post, however, Friesen also reflected on the difficulties that she now faced. She continued, “The hardest part is getting volleyball ripped away from me in an instant, but I will be back better and stronger than before.”
True to her word, Friesen’s condition slowly improved. In fact, by 2019 she was even back to playing volleyball again. The young woman told In the World of Female Sports, “I have fully recovered, and nothing hurts when I play – which is a miracle in and of itself.”
Given the impact that her accident had on her, then, Friesen has claimed that the experience was part of “both the worst day of [her] life and the best day of [her] life.” There was a positive side to the whole ordeal, you see, as the sportswoman revealed in her Instagram post, “I was shown God’s love in incredible ways that forever transformed me.”